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Digital Art Therapy


Digital art therapy is a relative newcomer to art therapy methods and materials that can be defined as “all forms of technology-based media, including digital collage, illustrations, films and photography that are used by therapists to assist clients in creating art as part of the process of therapy.”

It involves any activities that use computer keyboards and screens or other technological devices for image-making within the context of digital art therapy treatment. Equipment used to generate, modify, or manipulate images and electronic methods - such as electronic processing (computers or tablet devices), photocopying, filmmaking, videotaping, and photography. Following are the technologies used, but are not limited to, these currently popular forms:

  • Apps and various forms of image-creation and film editing software

  • Animation

  • Gaming, Virtual Reality (VR) and participatory environments

  • Light Painting

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)

  • Digital storytelling as well as other techno-media

Is using Digital Media counterproductive to therapy?

As you can imagine, digital media involve some distinctly different tactile, relational, and sensory experiences in contrast to traditional art materials. In fact, some art therapists might say that having a “relationship” with a computer screen or tablet is counterproductive to therapy in general because it alters the human dynamic that is a significant part of reparation and recovery.

While computer technology does provide the senses with images, colours, sometimes sounds but pencils, pastels, paints, clay, and other traditional media are quite different sensory experiences. Back in 2001, Don Seiden observed that technology requires a different sensibility than traditional materials; the use of digital media emphasizes conceptual and perceptual abilities over manual skills in most cases. Dr. Shaun McNiff used the phrase “virtual studio,” noting that art therapy’s territory is inclusive of not only traditional materials, but also those that come in the form of electronic, multimedia, and digitised formats.

Digital media may even be a preferred mode of expression for some of our therapy clients. While tactile contact with materials may be beneficial for some, the properties of digital media may be helpful for others. For example, the Google Project Spectrum software program

In brief, many individuals have reported that the manual process of drawing is frustrating, while creating using the virtual drawing program is not only gratifying, but also makes more visual sense to them than a pencil and paper.

Thus, viewing digital media as simply additional approaches to help people achieve expressiveness, introduces new options for therapeutic change and encourages all art therapists to acknowledge that “materials’ as an important part of integrative practice in the 21st century.

Apps (application programs) List

Following are examples of apps that can be applied and adapted to work with various illnesses and challenges presented by children or adults.

  • Art Rage: Painting program

  • Draw Something: Draw something and have your family or friends guess what it is

  • Finger Paint Magic: A fun virtual finger painting experience

  • Spin Art: User-friendly app to produce colourful spin art designs

  • Uzu: Award-winning app that allows users to apply different kinds of touch to the screen to create colourful designs

  • Virtuoso: Free piano app for music-making via virtual piano keys

  • Art of Glow: App that allows users to create colourful and relaxing designs

  • Thicket: App that is part toy, part wind chime and part spider web that provides an experience of texture, lines and sounds

  • Meritum Paint: Popular app for digital finger painting

  • Drawing Pad / Procreate: Mobile art studio designed exclusively for tablets; uses photo-realistic crayons, markers, paint brushes, coloured pencils, stickers and roller pens

  • Photowall: Collage app that creates images, greeting cards, wallpapers, and screensavers

  • Emulsion Paint: Colourful paintings through touch-screen technology

  • PhotoToaster: Easy way to alter and enhance photographs taken on tablets and smartphones

I hope you will experiment with these or other art-making apps - it is the best way to learn about their possible use in therapeutic intervention as well as identifying their limitations. Please be mindful that while apps can support creative expression, digital technology can impact on child and adolescent development.

Reference: (2018) The Handbook of Art Therapy and Digital Technology - Edited by Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, Jessica Kingsley Publishers

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